Allow me to propose a hypothetical question. What would you do if God showed up at your door tomorrow and told you that your religion was mostly wrong about God? To make things even more complicated, what if God told you that all religions pretty much had it mostly wrong? Suppose that God had a driver’s license and an autographed picture of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to show you so that there was no doubt in your mind that this was, indeed, God. Finally, suppose that God left you with no instructions about how to proceed except that you should look within you and look at the world around you for the answer.
First and foremost, whether you belong to a religion or not, would you tell anyone about your encounter with God? What do you think either telling or not telling says about what’s important to you? How would you deal with cynicism in response to sharing your story? If you currently belong to a religion, would you tell the people at Church, Temple, Mosque, or other place of worship? How do you suppose they would receive your news? If they received it poorly, what would you do. No matter how it was received, would you continue to attend your current religious institution?
These questions, and others like them, are very important because they help us to identify our true loyalties and our true priorities. Our answers can show us how much we allow ourselves to be influenced by peer pressure and the pressure of authority figures on our spiritual journey. In short, they tell us whether we value acceptance or union with the Divine more.
In the United States some forms of institutional religion (despite it being against IRS regulations and a violation of the tax exempt status of churches and other non-profits) presume to be able to tell us what our politics should be, who or what we should vote for and against, what our social lives should look like, what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms, and a host of other things that we would never let any other complete stranger determine for us but we only to willingly yield to religious authority. Very often we do this, allegedly, because the institution has convinced us that God wants us to do what the institution says. For Christians, that flies directly in the face of what Jesus taught when he said give to God what is God’s and give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
How you answer these hypothetical questions identifies for you who is truly God in your life – your religious institution or the transcendant God of the Universe. If you answer the questions honestly, you will come to see how much of your authority you have yielded not to God but to the institution. That would make God’s first hypothetical statement – that all religions are pretty much wrong about God – pretty accurate.
I’m not telling you it’s a bad idea to belong to the institutional Church (even though I personally think it is a bad idea). I am telling you that if you ever have any hope of encountering God, of moving along the path of Sanctification, of achieving Deification, or of making any spiritual progress you are going to have to take your power back. The first step is thinking and feeling for yourself and stop taking the lazy way out by letting the Church do it for you. As you do so, watch how your Church reacts and ask yourself if the reaction you are seeing is healthy, or not.
As Jesus said, you cannot serve both God and money. At this moment in the United States, the Church is big money. Take a step back and notice how much time your church spends talking, worrying, planning, and strategizing about money. Attend some finance committee meetings and take a look at the budget. Is your institution serving God or money?
This much is certain: We will never have an authentic spiritual journey unless and until we clear most if not all of the distractions out of the way. God couldn’t care less if you vote Democrat, Republican, Independent, or not at all. Your building fund to expand your education wing will not bring anyone closer to God, but it will increase the institution’s ability to make people dependent on it, rather than free in God.
God is knocking at your door right now and wants to ask you some questions. Will you answer?